So long, March

1 Apr

March 2020 should go down as the weirdest month in the history of mankind. It feels longer than any January I’ve even experienced and it’s gone on and on, and on, and on… Even though it’s only 15 days since we went into lockdown mode in Switzerland and like many other countries around the world life has been a bit different.

I don’t mind staying in the house, pottering around, reading and writing but even this is a bit much for me. It doesn’t help that Mother Nature is proudly displaying bright blue, cloudless skies taunting me.

Typical! Perfect weather when we all locked in

I’m flipping between being unmotivated to exist to having bouts of seemingly limitless creativity. I also have a huge compulsion to bake and cook anything and everything. Like hot cross buns. Like flapjacks. Like scotch eggs. I looked at a recipe for scotch eggs and the compulsion quickly left me.

I’ve been reading quite a bit and working on some short stories that I will hoping to enter into competitions later this year. I also think I have had a great idea for a novel but I’m still working out the details and wondering exactly to do with it and what type of book it would be. Being shut in and not being able to go might be the perfect opportunity to get a book written. But I’m sure I will find an excuse not to put pen to paper.

No one can travel (my trip to Dubai in the middle of March was cancelled) so I’ve had to put on hold some of my challenges but it does mean I’ve been able to spend some time working on the other ‘indoors-y’ challenge that I don’t need to leave the house to complete.

I’ve finished my challenge to make some art, learnt some more origami designs and have been making use of time spent in front of TV by making my way through the mammoth challenge of watching the Top 250 Films on iMDB.

On 1st March I decided to start my 365 days of not drinking alcohol. Only 334 to go! I’m not sure if this is a stroke of genius (all of the events I was worried about missing out on in the summer will probably be cancelled and the pubs are shut so there is less temptation) or the worst idea ever (if you can’t drink to drown your sorrows during a global pandemic when can you?). I know when lockdowns are finally lifted and life returns to normal, there will be the biggest party ever and – story of my life – I will be sat on the sidelines drinking a glass of water, looking on with pure jealousy and hatred. But I’m trying not to think about that and keep strong.

Booze is a distant memory

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Challenge 40 – completed

25 Mar

Life under lockdown is tough. I am managing to spend time on trying to complete challenges on my 40 Before 40 List. Of course, travelling is a no-no so I am concentrating on those that I can achieve by being locked in the house.

Last week I completed Challenge 40! The original challenge was to start and maintain my own travel website but I decided to change it to create a piece of art because I’ve done a bit of travel writing and I have to say I prefer travelling to writing about it. I made the change well before the Coronavirus outbreak!

So I made this:

In case you can’t tell, it’s a wolf. Okay, so it isn’t a painting by hand or something that I’ve conceived of myself. But I still think it’s impressive and you can’t say that it’s not art, even though I’m not sure what the exact definition of art is!

All of the materials were included in the pack that I ordered and then it was fairly simple to put together. The picture is made up of tiny squares, each with a symbol on them. You then have to look up on the key what colour needs to be glued into that square.

The squares are really tiny. I’m glad I didn’t order one that was bigger – I would have been doing it forever. This took me about a week to do. I did end up getting slightly addicted to it; just telling myself I will do another 10 minutes and still being hunched over the desk an hour and a half later. During this mad times, it provided a good distraction from everything going on in the world right now.

Incidentally, I have managed to almost destroy my left shoulder from leaning over it. I’ve had heat packs and all sorts on it trying to ease the pain. I have suffered for my art.

There are a lot of other challenges I can work on while I am house-bound. I am hoping to be able to tick off some more over the coming weeks. So stay tuned!

March Madness

15 Mar

I’ve just realised it’s been more than a month since I updated my blog. And what a month it’s been.

I spent 2 weeks in Tenerife mid-February. It was an opportunity to get back into a regular running routine and to get back into a regular writing routine. I would say I managed to achieve both of these goals. I ended up running more than 60km in total in February and I managed to write quite a bit too. I was pleased with some of the writing.

I then got caught up in the sandstorm in Tenerife that saw flights being cancelled but I go lucky because my flight wasn’t affected in the end. A day earlier and I would be stranded there.

The night the sandstorm hit

Of course, a few days later the news about the Coronavirus making its way to Europe hit. Since then madness has reigned supreme. Here in Switzerland we are in a semi-lockdown situation. Schools, libraries and restuarants and bar with a capacity of more than 50 people have been ordered to close. People have also been advised to stop using public transport. When the Swiss are stopping using public transport, you know that something serious is afoot.

We’ve had to cancel our trip to Dubai next week because the situation is so volatile and getting stranded abroad is not a situation I want to find myself in. Plus my employer has urged people not to travel unless 100% necessary.

Life is not going to be the same for a while. I just hope everything returns back to normal soon. In the meantime, I will be focusing on some of my challenges that don’t involve international travel. I have a stack of non-fiction and German books to read and that list of 250 films is not going to watch itself!

Stay healthy!

Book Challenge by Erin 12.0

12 Feb

As usual I kicked off this year by getting very excited that it was time for the Book Challenge by Erin to start again. I have been taking part in this online book challenge for a couple of year now and it always gets me excited to start reading again in the new year.

I managed to finish the challenge by 30th January – 10 books in 30 days isn’t bad going. I managed to read 8 books that I already own which means I have more space on my book shelves now. The other two I borrowed from the library.

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As ever there are 10 different categories. Here are the books I read:

Freebie (any book over 200 pages) – I chose The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. I don’t often read biographies but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. In my ignorance I had no idea about the struggles of Burma gaining independence nor about Aung San Suu Kyi and her and her family’s part in the fight for independence. It’s incredible that the book touches on points of history within my lifetime. It makes me want to read more about Buddhism, non violent struggles and the story of India’s independence which the author compares with Burma’s story throughout the book. I still have no idea how to pronounce her name though.

Starts with ‘I’ – I chose It Ends With You by S. K. Wright. I picked this up from the second hand book shop because the cover looked interesting. Not the best way to choose books, I know. It was a quick and easy read. It was told from the perspective of several different characters and via different mediums (WhatsApp, Blogs, diaries as well as individual characters narratives). It was a who-dunnit and I did work out who was responsible before it was revealed in the book but that didn’t spoil the ending.

Two or More Authors – I chose Run Faster: How to be Your Own Best Coach by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald. I have had this book gathering dust on my shelf for longer than I care to remember and, as I want to try to improve my running times this year, it’s about time I read it! The book was aimed at runner who are far more advanced and better than I am but I still found a lot of useful tips in the book that I will definitely try to incorporate into my running. I am super keen to beat one of my PBs this year and I hope this book has helped me to work out areas I can improve on to do that.

Tree on Cover Art – I chose Frau auf der Treppe by Bernhard Schlink. This is a German novel that I’ve had for a long time. The book starts with a dispute over the ownership of a painting and ends up being a tragic long story between an unlikely pairing. It didn’t end as I expected it would. It was a good read but I can’t say I loved it.

Who What When Where or Why in the title – I chose What to Do When You Become the Boss by Bob Seldon. I bought this book when I got a job as a manager for the first time. It didn’t work out and I left the job but I decided to read it anyway. There were a lot of interesting tips for people who aren’t managers and it gave a different perspective on working in a modern environment. Some of the tips I don’t agree with, like only checking your email once a day. I guess it depends what your role is but, as my job is operational, it’s just not all that practical to do that. I do see how constant email checking can be addictive and a waste of time though!

Set in Africa – I chose Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland. I went to Zimbabwe went Robert Mugabe was president and this was a fascinating read. I had no idea that he was very intelligent (he had 7 degrees) and he was a very religious man. The account in this book paints a different picture to what I imagined the man to be like. It presented a balanced view of him by looking at historical events and talking to people who knew him the best, while trying to pinpoint the reasons why such a shy and thoughtful man ended up becoming one of the world’s most famous dictators.

A Female Relative in the title – I chose Motherland by Paul Theroux. This is an incredible novel. It’s written in such detail that it reads like an autobiography. The narrator is a writer who’s writing a memoir about life with his aging mother and his six siblings. The characters were so relatable, especially the matriarch of the family. I loved it.

A Winner of the Edgar Award – I chose Mr Mercedes by Stephen King.  I always had the impression that King’s novels are just out and out scary but the more I read them the more I know that’s not true. This was a straight forward thriller. I was completely hooked from the beginning of this book – a person in a Mercedes kills people who are waiting in line for a job fair and the now retired police officer who was involved in the case comes out of retirement to hunt down the killer. This is the first of a trilogy and I am tempted to read the rest.

Locked Room Mystery – I chose And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. A locked room mystery is is a subgenre of detective fiction in which a crime (almost always murder) is committed in circumstances under which it was seemingly impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene. I thought this book was a bit slow to begin with and it took me a while to get into it. Once people started dying one by one it started to get a lot more interesting!

A Book mentioned in Show Us Your Books blog post – I chose One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. This was similar to the book I read for the Title Begins with ‘I’. Both of them are YA books. I thought this was a good read. There was a lot of intrigue around the death of a high school kid. I liked the characters and the pace of the plot was good.

There is a bonus round for the challenge but the rules have changed slightly. I would have to read a book from all of the categories again but all of them would have to have been chosen by other participants – before you only had to choose five previously chosen. As my to be read list keeps getting longer, I have decided not to take part in the bonus round this time to concentrate on the books I already have to read!

Challenge #16 – completed

9 Feb

I’ve completed another challenge!

Challenge number 16 on my list was to save money for a rainy day. I’ve always been good-ish with money but I’ve never really had a good amount of savings to draw on in case of an emergency.

I’ve read several sources that say it’s a good idea to have at least three months’ salary saved up. I have no idea why it’s 3 months rather than two and a half or even 5. It seems like an arbitrary amount without a lot of reasoning for it – a bit like the recommended 10’000 steps a day that are supposed to keep you fit!

As that’s what’s recommended that’s what I’ve done. I started saving last year after I started a new job and put away a little bit each month. If I’d been frugal during the month then I could save a bit more. It’s surprising how quickly an amount each month manages to grow into 3 months’ salary. Luckily I didn’t need to dip into these funds during the past year so it was just a case of save, save, save.

I’m hoping not to be forced into using these savings in the near future but we are in the middle of a restructuring process at work so I can’t honestly say for sure that this is what will happen. Perhaps I find myself out of work again, perhaps everything is business as usual. It’s hard to know or guess what the future will hold in the next few months but I do feel slightly better knowing I have something in reserve for a case like this.

If you don’t have money squirrelled away for the future, I would recommend doing it. Saving a little and often makes the whole process virtually pain free!

Update – Challenge #35

6 Feb

This is an update about the 40 non-fiction books that I am attempting read for my 40 Before 40 challenge. I have recently read 10 more which means I only have 10 more books to read before I finish the challenge.

Here are the books I recently read:

The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

This was only a short book but a fascinating read. The authors present fifty different models with illustrations. Some of the models I was familiar with from the economics that I studied for my accounting qualification but the majority of them were new. My favourite in the whole book was The Esquire Gift Model, which was explains how much you should spend on a gift for someone based on the number of years you have known the recipient combine with what type of occasion it is (engagement, anniversary etc). It is so simply explained and is something that people, myself included, agonised over.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

This is the second book on relationships by John Gray that I’ve read. Some parts of it are a bit outdated (it was written in the 90s) but a lot of the information and observations that he makes are valid and made sense to me. The problem with these books is that there is almost too much information to process. I think it is best to take a handful of advice and focus on these rather than trying to remember every single detail.

Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

I was excited to read this book because I had heard a lot of good things about the first book by this author, which admittedly I haven’t read. It’s fairly obvious from the title that it is the diary of a bookseller. I was slightly disappointed. It wasn’t as funny as I was expecting – the recommendations on the cover made it sound like it was one of the funniest books ever written. But it gave a very interesting insight to the problems facing second-hand booksellers (Amazon, Kindles, unreasonable customers asking for discounts) and some of the methods that they need to employ to survive.

The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 by Paul Krugman

Apart from banks in America failing and house prices going down, I didn’t know very much about the Crisis of 2008. Krugman is a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics and manages to explain complex economic theories succinctly. He explains that the Crisis could have been predicted by inflation and currency valuation problems that happened prior to the crisis in South America and Asia. It was an interesting read, especially as many of the warning factors that he mentions are evident around the world today which may mean another depression is on its way.

Change Book: Fifty Models to Explain How Things Happen by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the Decision Book (see above). The subject matter was a bit dry and the model were less applicable to daily life. It also covered a huge range of topics like explaining the world to aliens, why some people are unfaithful and climate change. One of the most interesting models was When Something Starts to be Uncool. It plots mainstream against the avant-garde to show how somethings remain cool but other things quickly become unpopular in modern society.

Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland

I went to Zimbabwe went Robert Mugabe was president and this was a fascinating read. I had no idea that he was very intelligent (he had 7 degrees) and he was a very religious man. The account in this book paints a different picture to what I imagined the man to be like. It presented a balanced view of him by looking at historical events and talking to people who knew him the best, while trying to pinpoint the reasons why such a shy and thoughtful man ended up becoming one of the world’s most famous dictators.

Man Alone with Himself by Friedrich Nietzsche 

The last time I read something by Nietzsche was under duress at university. This was a very short book but it had some really interesting idea in it. The first part of the book was a series of aphorisms (tidbits of philosophical insight). My favourite of these was about language: ‘he who speaks a bit of a foreign language has more delight than he who speaks it well; pleasure goes along with superficial knowledge’. After my struggle of learning German, I can say this is very true.

Run Faster: How to be Your Own Best Coach by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald

I have had this book gathering dust on my shelf for longer than I care to remember and, as I want to try to improve my running times this year, it’s about time I read it! The book was aimed at runner who are far more advanced and better than I am but I still found a lot of useful tips in the book that I will definitely try to incorporate into my running. I am super keen to beat one of my PBs this year and I hope this book has helped me to work out areas I can improve on to do that.

What to Do When You Become the Boss by Bob Seldon

I bought this book when I got a job as a manager for the first time. It didn’t work out and I left the job but I decided to read it anyway. There were a lot of interesting tips for people who aren’t managers and it gave a different perspective on working in a modern environment.

Some of the tips I don’t agree with, like only checking your email once a day. I guess it depends what your role is but, as my job is operational, it’s just not all that practical to do that. I do see how constant email checking can be addictive and a waste of time though!

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham

I don’t often read biographies but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. In my ignorance I had no idea about the struggles of Burma gaining independence nor about Aung San Suu Kyi and her and her family’s part in the fight for independence. It’s incredible that the book touches on points of history within my lifetime. It makes me want to read more about Buddhism, non violent struggles and the story of India’s independence which the author compares with Burma’s story throughout the book.

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Ciao January

31 Jan

I don’t know about you but I feel like this month has lasted for about 90 days but I’m not sure why. Because I work in finance, January is always a busy month as everyone is so interested in finalising the full year results and, as a result, I end up working longer hours. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Today marks the end of the first month of the new decade and also Brexit will finally happen at midnight. With so much going on, it feels like it is a good moment to sit down and have a look at what I have been up to over the past 31 days.

  •  We welcomed in the New Year at home with Raclette and plenty of alcohol. I’m not a New Year’s Eve person by any stretch of the imagination so that was fine with me. It was nice to be at home for a change and feel relaxed enough to do virtually nothing.
  •  I went back home to see family and friends in the middle of January to try to make up a little bit for not being home over Christmas for the first time in seven years. It was great fun but I completely derailed my aim to try to eat healthier.
  • I finished the latest installment of the online Book Challenge by Erin that I have taken part in for the last 2 years. I only finished my final book of the challenge last night so I am still to post my review about the books but it will be coming soon.
  •  I managed to stick to my fitness goals for January that I blogged about earlier in the year. It was surprisingly easy to stick to and I have managed to run for more than 50k over the past month. Apart from a few blips in my healthy eating programme, I have also managed to stick to a good diet. In February I am hoping to do exactly the same but I also want to do more exercises like sit-ups and press-ups at home to help me slim down.
  • I’ve got stuck back into writing again after taking a bit of a break at the end of last year. So far I have 6 drafts of story stories that I hope I can make into a collection at some point this year. I also have 3 other story ideas on the go.
  • I was elected to the committee of the netball club at the end of last year and I have been busy updating the website and posting things on Instagram and Facebook. I’m enjoying it so far and it makes me more motivated to go to training every week.
  • I also cashed in my birthday present by attending a brewery course in Luzern last weekend. I found it really interesting and the free beer tasting was also great.

It seems that my wish to take it a bit more easy this year is already out of the window. I genuinely don’t realise how much I do until I sit down and thing what I did over the past month. In February though I will be taking a two-week holiday in a warmer climate which will mean more time for running, beer drinking and writing. I can’t wait!

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